Sunday, September 17, 2017

Excerpts from "Art-Talks with Henry Ward Ranger"

Henry Ward Ranger
American artist Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916) was a prominent landscape and marine painter, an important Tonalist, and the leader of the Old Lyme Art Colony. His memoirs and observations about art were recorded in a book entitled "Art-Talks with Henry Ward Ranger" by Dr. Ralcy Husted Bell. I found it particularly interesting to read about the attitudes of America toward American artists at that time and also his experiences with European painters. Here are some excerpts:

"When I came to New York, American art was at its lowest ebb. The old Hudson River School, or the American Dusseldorf, which had been popular and fairly successful, had become thoroughly discredited, with the result that the two leading picture houses, Goupil and Schaus, had entirely given up the handling of American art.

I remember going to the Goupil Gallery, where I gave my twenty-five cents to see the pictures, and finding nothing but foreign paintings, turned and asked: "Sir, haven't you any American pictures?" I can recall now the contemptuous way in which he replied: "No sir, we have no American pictures! All our paintings are imported."

Looking back, it seems as though the galleries then were flooded with fine Barbizon pictures. It was no uncommon thing for a dealer, returning from his annual trip abroad, to bring back from fifty to a hundred examples of this school. And we really had a much better chance to study the works of these men here in New York, than in Paris where I shortly went.

I felt that if I could go to the place whence came these masterpieces which I admired so much, I could revel in them to my heart's content; but I shall never forget the shock I received at my first visit to the Salon. As I remember, I could not find there a single picture of the sort I had come to see. I found the French artists, and the public generally, indifferent to the Barbizon men; and I soon realized there were more good Barbizon pictures to be seen in America than in Paris.

I made friends, fortunately, among the dealers, from whom I found that when a good Barbizon picture came into the market, it was held back for an American customer at an American price. It was another case of the prophet being without honour in his own country.

"Bradbury's Mill Pond"

"The Windmill"
The art of that day was divided into as many movements as there are now. The usual ambition seemed to be to paint a Salon picture and to get a medal. The Salon of the rejected, headed by Monet and Manet, attracted a large following. I remember that I was very much impressed by them. The sense of illumination, the quality of outdoors, the spontaneity of their work appealed to me very strongly and I came near joining the movement. But after trying their methods enough to feel at home in them, I found the call of the Romanticists stronger.

One street would be full of men who insisted that the only way to paint was to use pure colour, and to put it on in dots. These were the Pointillists. The clique of the next street insisted that the colours should go on in stripes, which, as I now recollect, looked like little coloured worms crawling over the canvas. These were the Stripists.

The feuds and fights between the different adherents of the numerous cults were as furious as the feuds between the different schools of today. I kept to the museums and studied my old masters. At the Louvre, I found my first Constable, which opened another line of sensations, and which finally sent me back to Claude and Hobbema.

About this time I met a little French dealer who was employed by a number of  French and English connoisseurs to buy such things as he thought they might like. G.D. was a charming character. When he visited me in the country, he would usually bring along a little picture, a Corot often, which he would put on the foot of his bed to study while taking his morning coffee.

His father had been a dealer, and particularly a patron of Monticelli. At Monticelli's death, there came to him all the artist's remaining pictures, including the starts and unfinished sketches, besides many incoherent works of his late absinthe period. I recall studying Monticelli's method of painting - and with this advantage: the facility with which it could be traced from start to finish.

"Children at Play" by Adolf Monticelli
One day I ventured to ask G.D. if he thought varnish a safe thing to use in painting. "Why yes, certainly! the Barbizon painters all used it." I said, "Are you sure?" He replied, "Yes! I have often bought varnish for "Papa" Corot, who used to send to my father to have varnish and other things sent to him. My father would send me out to get them." "Well," I said, "do you think you could get some of that varnish now?" "Yes!" he answered, "the same shop is around there"

So we went three or four blacks to a colourman's and went in. He asked for the varnish, and we got a bottle of it. I did not know what I was using for the bottle was labelled only "Vernis a Tableaux," and my life of crime, according to the views of my confreres, the plein airists, began then."

My first sight of the works of Israel, Maris, Bosboom and Mauve gave me the same thrill which I had received from my first acquaintance with the Barbizon painters, and I wanted to know them also. So I went to Holland with my hat in my hand and love and admiration in my heart. I had the pleasure of meeting all and knowing some of the masters intimately; and I have always remembered their kindness.

"Homeward Bound" by Anton Mauve

I knew Mauve and talked with him a great deal. I had formed a habit in particular of always carrying a sketchbook, and if something flashed before my eyes that seemed so beautiful it must be painted, I got out my sketchbook and made a "thumbnail note" and then, when I got back, I tried to do the thing from memory.  

In France this habit of work I was almost ashamed of, because there the catchword was: paint everything honestly, literally and directly from Nature. Nothing that depended upon memory was considered as having any merit, and I remember I spoke of this to Mauve, and asked him if he thought the practice safe.

He laughed and said, "Why, all the old masters worked this way; and I paint all my pictures from sketches." Instead of carrying a small sketchbook, he carried a large one of grey paper in which to jot down his impressions with charcoal or artist's chalk. Many of these sketches, which later became pictures, were sold in this country after his death.

Mauve, after early years of struggle, had just arrived at the point where his pictures were marketed as soon as finished.

He had left The Hague and gone to Laren, a little hamlet near Hilversum. There he had built for himself a comfortable house with an inside studio and an outside glass studio, where he could study animals in any weather, if he wished. His income had become greater than his modest outgo; and I recollect his saying how good God was in letting his work be liked so that he could paint with a mind free from worry over money-matters.

"A Shepherd and His Flock" by Anton Mauve
One charming thing I remember of the Dutch painters was their universal simplicity. One seemed to feel, no matter how great they were, that they still considered themselves students. They were ever ready and willing to help and advise any youngling who was in earnest.

I am very much indebted to them for the technical suggestions and illuminating remarks I heard during their conversation. There was none of that pose of: "Look up to me! I'm a master!" which you encounter so often in Paris, and I am sorry to say, once in a while in America.

Reynolds often speaks of the advantages he received from his copying during his stay in Italy; and similar tributes to the value of this branch of study occur in the writings and history of all the great painters. 

Copy of a Van Dyck by Thomas Gainsborough
In London, where I saw my first Academy Exhibition, I was much impressed by some portraits that suggested two masters I had been studying seriously: Rembrandt and Velasquez. I looked up the name of the painter and found it to be Frank Holl and learned that he was the leading man in portraiture in England. Later I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with him at the Savage Club.

He talked to me in a very frank and kindly manner and told me that he still made it a rule to devote two months of each year to copying from Rembrandt and Velasquez - going to Holland or Spain expressly for the purpose.

It is only fair to say, a slavish, unthinking copy cannot be of value. I remember copying a Corot which taught me more on certain valuable points than I could have learned merely through observation in several years. It was an almost completed little picture which Corot, I think, had started from Nature and carried on in his studio. It belonged to my friend who allowed me to copy it.

I studied the picture for some days, trying to follow Corot's method step by step, and to understand perfectly the reasons why. When I had worked them out in a logical manner, I put the picture up before me and went to work as though I were doing it from Nature and not from a picture. The result was, what one might call, more of a spiritual than a literal copy. But the performance fixed in my mind certain truths that might have taken me years to discover by myself.

I would like to get into my pictures of this region a little of the love I feel for those who made it.
I understand naturally why the woodlot was kept, and why the lane over the hill to the barn must lead to a back pasture. A farmer can't cut down a tree or build a fence or dig a ditch or throw a bridge across a rill without helping to humanize his land.

"The Woodland Scene" by Henry Ward Ranger
And a sensitive person will unconsciously feel the spell woven by generations of husbandmen piling the stones from the fields into walls, often with their rifles lying close at hand. He will enter into their lives and share in imagination their troubles and rewards. A landscape is as human as an individual - so is a tree. Sometimes I feel that I, a poor descendant of these men, mark a decadence by merely painting amidst the scenes of their heroic labours instead of doing more virile work.

 I remember one thing that made a great impression on me, and has given me much food for thought since. It was relative to the importance of a thorough foundation in art."

Shortly after my arrival in Holland, I had the pleasure of meeting Francois Buffa, the great expert and deal, and close personal friend of Israel, the Marises and Mauve. It was he who Boussod & Valadon asked to advise them when they were uncertain as to whether they should take up the work of the Barbizon men or not. He went to Paris, took one look, and said, "Take all you can get." He was then a very old man, with long white hair that hung over his shoulders, and he walked with a long, ivory-headed cane.

One day, I told him how much I admired the Dutch painters, and he said to me, "Yes, it is a fine school. It is our first school in over two hundred years, but it is finished." I did not understand him and asked, "What do you mean? You have Israel, Maris and Mauve, and so on." He replied, "Yes, very true! They are great painters, but the school, it is finished. There are none coming up to take their places. The young men are starting where the old men are leaving off."

One looks over the Dutch school today and one is tempted to believe that Mr. Buffa gave voice to a great truth - the necessity of a firm foundation.

It seems curious now, as one looks back, that pictures of the academic type of the men mentioned as well as the Salon pictures of the plein airists, should have been received with so much favour, and that they should have brought higher prices than the work of the Barbizon painters which has justly become so valuable.

I remember when "The Potato Gatherers," (pictured below) by an artist named Hagborg, received as much adulation, perhaps even more than the Millets which came into the market at the same period.

"Potato Planters" by Jean-Francois Millet

"The Potato Gatherers" by August Hagborg

Many can recall the sensation Munkaczy made with his "Christ Before Pilate," an enormous canvas of the Salon type which was shown in a store on Twenty-third Street, the walls of which were draped with dark hangings. To augment the effect, lights were turned low and the picture was illuminated with a blaze of light from special reflectors. I recall paying my quarter and groping my way to one of the seats which were arranged in theatre fashion, and listening to a gentleman who hourly ascended the platform and delivered a lecture on the picture. In Paris where it had been exhibited as it was in New York, the management employed an old man to weep daily in front of the picture.

These names and hosts of others which you will only recall by looking over the Salon catalogues of that period, represent some phases of ephemeral art.  

I remember one thing that made a great impression on me, and has given me much food for thought since. It was relative to the importance of a thorough foundation in art.

Shortly after my arrival in Holland, I had the pleasure of meeting Francois Buffa, the great expert and deal, and close personal friend of Israel, the Marises and Mauve. It was he who Boussod & Valadon asked to advise them when they were uncertain as to whether they should take up the work of the Barbizon men or not. He went to Paris, took one look, and said, "Take all you can get." He was then a very old man, with long white hair that hung over his shoulders, and he walked with a long, ivory-headed cane.
"The Five Windmills" by Jacob Maris

One day, I told him how much I admired the Dutch painters, and he said to me, "Yes, it is a fine school. It is our first school in over two hundred years, but it is finished." I did not understand him and asked, "What do you mean? You have Israel, Maris and Mauve, and so on."

He replied, "Yes, very true! They are great painters, but the school, it is finished. There are none coming up to take their places. The young men are starting where the old men are leaving off." One looks over the Dutch school today and one is tempted to believe that Mr. Buffa gave voice to a great truth - the necessity of a firm foundation.   

* "Art-Talks with Henry Ward Ranger" by Ralcy Husted Bell is available free and online at 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Mihaly Munkacsy

(from "A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900" by Will H. Low)

Mihály Munkácsy

No painter of foreign birth has in the past century received more honour at the hands of the French; successive medals in the Salon, a medal of honour at the Universal Exposition of 1878 and a grand prize at that of 1889, had been followed by the cross of Commander in the Legion of Honour in 1890. From the first, the dealers had fought for his pictures, and marriage had increased his wealth and social position.

"The Artist's Studio" by Mihaly Munckacsy
"Paris Salon, the Wife of the Artist" by Mihaly Munckacsy
"Woman Carrying Faggots" by Mihaly Munckacsy
Having known Mihály Munkácsy almost upon a footing of intimacy in my early sojourn at Barbizon, I had followed his career with interest. Fortune, artistic and material, had smiled upon him. He had a magnificent house with a studio that was one of the show places of Paris, and in every way he seemed marked as one of Fortune's favourites. Stories were told of visits to Budapest, the populace unharnessed the horses and drew his carriage through the streets in a burst of enthusiasm for their compatriot of world-wide fame.

The artistic appreciation of Munkacsy had hardly kept pace with his popular and material success, however, and artists and critics, once loud in his praise, had for a number of years looked coldly upon his work, and each successive Salon no longer marked a triumph at the time when, by chance, I met him one morning as I was on my way to my studio at Dubufe's.

Crossing the boulevard I saw that a tall stranger had dropped a portfolio, whence had escaped a number of drawings which he was now stooping to recover. As I came nearer and he rose before me, face to face, I recognized Munkacsy. I asked him if he remembered me. He looked at me intently with a puzzled air until I mentioned my name and that of Barbizon and then, true to his impetuous nature, he almost embraced me.

I gave him a brief account of myself and then told him that I was at work nearby on a ceiling for a new hotel in New York. "May I come and see ?" he asked. He tone seemed almost eager. "Now may I accompany you?" Of course I assented, very sincerely flattered, yet not a little puzzled by the strange insistence of his tone. We shortly reached the studio where my work was nearly completed. There was the most simple sincerity in his expression as he lavished his extravagant praise.

He returned again and again to dwell upon the clarity and lightness of tone of my work, and more than once he repeated, "Yes, I remember you were painting much lighter than the other men at Barbizon when you were there. It is evidently easy for you while I, I paint black. My work is heavy, it is the bitumen. Bitumen has been my ruin, everyone tells me so."

"And now you must come with me." Munkacsy's studio at Neuilly was, if possible, even larger than the one that I occupied, fitting with hangings of the most expensive nature, and the whole aspect was fairly palatial. A well-trained servant stepped forward to remove our coats, and drawing forward chairs, we seated ourselves.
Mihaly Munkacsy in His Studio
The work on which Munkacsy was engaged was a frieze for the Parliament house in his native country. It was about sixty feet in length by probably fifteen feet in height and stretched diagonally across the immense studio. Munkacsy began at once. "I have been ill, very ill, but I am determined to make this my best work, and above all to make it light in tone." Then calling two servants he directed them to set up the sketches for the work.

"The Hungarian Conquest" by Munkacsy
There were three and painted to quarter-scale, each fifteen feet long - formidable canvases in themselves. "There" he resumed eagerly, "that is the first sketch. It is like mahogany; and then I made the second one there. That is lighter, is it not? But it was not light enough, so I've made a third still lighter. And I hope that the big canvas may be yet lighter."

"I am reproached for my bituminous tones. Everyone is painting light for the Salon. Oh, much more than they used to do. No, I must paint light." Suddenly he broke out in a tone whose memory still haunts me, so dejected and hopeless it seemed to be, to come from one so favoured by fortune, so visibly surrounded by the evidence of his long-sustained success.

"You don't live in Paris. You have never known a Salon success. You are fortunate. It is pleasant, everyone praises you. It is "cher maitre" here, and "cher maitre" there, and year after year it goes on until it becomes a necessity of your existence. Then they begin to pick flaws. My Hungarian pictures bored them, so I gave them Parisians - and then they called my work upholstery and said that I was a creature of the dealers and incapable of affronting "la grande peinture."

Then I did my "Christ before Pilate," a real success with the public at least, and with the artists too, though some hung back. And then they began to reproach me with painting dark, and since then there has been no peace. It is like being thrown to the wild beasts. For what does it matter if the dealers clamour for my work, they, too, will stay away before the critics get through with me.

"Ecco Homo" by Munkacsy

Even now I hear whispers that my painting is only suited to Vienna or Budapest, and some day I may be obliged to retire there when Paris has sucked me dry. But you see I must paint light, or adieu to the Salon." His tone was so weird and unnatural that before he had ended I was convinced that his reason was unbalanced, any not many months after he was taken to a sanitarium."

Munkacsy's Last Years
"The damage to his nervous system from syphilis, which he had contracted in his youth worsened considerably. Because he felt so poorly, he had to leave early from the last great reception organized in his honour.  He spent a whole year in Baden-Baden, Germany, where his physicians continued to try the usual hydrotherapy treatments. However, he slowly fell into a state of dementia, and became upset by even the idea of creation. In January, 1897, he had to be transferred to the psychiatric clinic in Endenich, Germany.

Munkácsy died after a long illness and suffering in a state of unconsciousness on May 1, 1900. On May 6th, his body was delivered to Budapest where it laid in state in the Art Gallery. A cordon was set up around the building and the catafalque could be visited only with an admission ticket. The burial took place on May 9th in the Kerepesi Cemetery. The outstanding figure of the Hungarian and European painting, the painter prince, was accompanied by hundreds of thousand of people at this end of his life’s journey. The farewell speech was made by his fellow painter, Károly Telepy."

(These last two paragraphs are from an excellent site devoted to Munkacsy: )

(Also what Will Low did not know, or did not share in this account, was that Munkacsy had had an exceedingly difficult childhood as described in this very interesting article by Cathy Locke:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, "Coute que Coute"

Portrait of Augustus St. Gaudens, 1908 by Kenyon Cox

Augustus Saint-Gaudens and his assistants
in the interior of the Large Studio, 1905

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was an American sculptor of the Beaux-Arts generation who most embodied the ideals of the "American Renaissance." Raised in New York City, he traveled to Europe for further training and artistic study, and then returned to New York, where he achieved major critical success for his monuments commemorating heroes of the American Civil War, many of which still stand.

General John Logan Memorial, Chicago

In "A Chronicle of Friendships," artist Will H. Low, who knew Saint-Gaudens from their time in Europe as art students and maintained the relationship upon their return to the States, shares the following insights into his character and method of working:

"In one incident of American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens' determination to give to the world none but his best, coute que coute [at all costs], I happened to be involved. The model of Captain Robert Randall was finished in every detail, all that remained was to have it enlarged ready for the final touches of the artist. This was being done in a temporary studio, somewhere in the upper part of New York, though none of us had seen it.

We had heard much, however, of the impatience of the committee which had the erection of the statue in charge and who had given the sculptor little peace of mind in their pardonable desire to hasten the end of his labours.

Such was the situation when one day Saint-Gaudens asked me to go to an address where a key would be given me. With this key I was to enter a building where I would find the "Randall," now enlarged to its full size. I was to go alone and was to study the statue "for at least half an hour," or until I felt that I had seen it sufficiently. I soon found myself in a large, sky-lit shed, completely bare of all other objects other than the small model and the full-sized statue of Randall.

My first impression was distinctly unfavourable, and this pained me considerably, for I had greatly admired the smaller model. The more I studied it, the more I found it lacking in the spirit of the lesser figure, which was entirely by Saint-Gaudens' hand, while the enlarged statue was chiefly the work of an assistant. The loss of life and action, I finally decided was more than superficial. No deft working by Saint-Gaudens would regain for it the spirit which had been lost by his less-inspired assistant. 

I debated seriously what to do. Finally all my mind centered on one thought. what would Saint-Gaudens do if the case was reversed? In the case of artistic conscience, he would coute que coute, tell the truth. I met my friend and he divined my answers, soften them as I would. Finally in a tone of decision he said, "That settles it! I didn't tell you before, but I sent John La Farge and Stanford White in the same way. All three of you without consultation say the same thing and it simply confirms my own feeling. The figure must come down. 

How he parried the impatience of the committee I know not. He began another half-sized model which was far inferior to the first, rejected that, and had the first "pointed up" again. After his skillful retouching, the finished figure in the clay was cast in plaster, molded in bronze and erected on its pedestal and looks today from the shores of Staten Island - a characteristic work of a sculptor who always, coute que coute, gave of his best.

Captain Robert Randall, Staten Harbor

The Story of the Robert Louis Stevenson Bas-relief

Augustus Saint-Gaudens had become such a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson's writings that he said that he would consider it a privilege to model his portrait. But with his vigilant guardians there was a momentary hesitation, lest the fatigue of sitting for his portrait should be more than he should be subjected to. 

But the first sight of Saint-Gaudens destroyed whatever share of this hesitation Louis might have felt for the two men took to each other from the first.

"Astonishingly young, not a bit like an invalid, and a bully fellow," was Saint-Gaudens' answer to my query concerning his impression, as we came out together from their first meeting. "I like your sculptor, what a splendid straightforward and simple fellow he is, and handsome as well," was Stevenson's salutation when I came to him later in the day.

The sittings had been arranged at this first interview and, at Saint-Gaudens' request, I endeavoured to be always present when he worked, and thanks to our triangular flow of talk, I doubt if Louis ever felt for a moment the constraint of posing.

The sculptor's easel was drawn up near the bed where Stevenson was a prisoner. Never was dungeon more enlivened by talk, of which, as usual, it is difficult to give much idea, so constantly did subjects change, and so wide the gamut from serious consideration of serious topics to the lightest and wildest chaff.

Bas-relief of Robert Louis Stevenson by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The bas-relief rapidly took the form in which it was first conceived, a circular composition suggested probably by the lines of Stevenson's figure sitting propped by the pillows at his back, his knees raised; his usual position to read or write in bed.

The general composition was quickly indicated in masses, but the head along was finished at this time, the hands being completed the following year from casts which Saint-Gaudens made during Stevenson's stay at Manasquan. By that time the whole medallion was advanced nearly to completion, and in this circular form it appears to me much to be preferred to the oblong relief which, about fifteen years later, was placed in position at the Church of St. Giles in Edinburgh where many of the greater men of the country are commemorated.

The memorial may, however, be taken as merely an official variation of the original conception which fortunately remains; a copy of it built into my chimneypiece looks down on me in my studio, where, surrounded by an ivy-wreath as an emblem of friendship, the sculptor, with a decorative sense of the beauty of an inscription that was peculiarly his own, has modelled in relief on the background the entire poem with its frank acceptance of our common lot and its brave confession of abiding faith at the end: "Life is over, life was gay, We have come the primrose way. Life seemed held by but a slender thread for one of us in those days, but it was continuously gay by Stevenson's bedside as Saint-Gaudens' work grew apace." *

* from "A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900" by Will H. Low

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Painting in Barbizon, France, in the 1870s

(from "A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900" by Will H. Low)

"Of all the vocations of man, surely few afford greater joy to the practitioner than the work of the painter out-of-doors. The stillness of the morning and the spicy odours of the trees, welcomed the matinal painter, and a brisk walk, never so long as to induce fatigue, for there were abundant motifs near at hand, brought him to his work.
Self-Portrait by Will Hicok Low
The folding easel was soon in place, the canvas placed upon it, the clear and pure colours, squeezed from their tubes, duly arranged upon the palette, and work began.Often, if the painting ground was some distance from the inn, a lunch would be carried, and a second canvas for an afternoon effect would be ready, when, after the lunch disposed of and sundry cigarettes burned on the altar of the arts, the industrious painter resumed his task.

Canvases of large dimensions, too large to be carried to and fro, would be firmly fixed to upright stakes driven in the ground and, with the absorbent back of the canvas protected from the weather by oil cloth, would be left out of doors for weeks until the painting was completed.

No other protection was necessary. The painted surface of the canvas was practically impervious to rain, and the chance faggot gathers, the forest guards, or even errant children passing that way had, one and all, too hearty respect for the arts to inflict the slightest damage on a painting in progress, thus left at their mercy.

Andreescu at Barbizon, 1880
by Nicolae Grigorescu
Many a picture in the museums today, protected by frame and glass, and the temperature of the gallery where it hangs carefully regulated, was thus born gypsy-like in the woods, where the shafts of sunlight by day and the stars by night watched curiously the progress of its growth.

The quitting hour was a fitting crown to a day well spent. When the shadows grew long, when the sunlight in the distance, which had effectually baffled your brush for a tantalizing period, had finally faded, the time to buckle up your trips, strap your knapsack to your back, and turn your face homeward had come.

In the midsummer the golden light in the tree-tops sent you on your way through the cool shadow below as though your head were a halo, and it was yet day when, emerging from the forest, the point iron of the alpenstock to which the artist affixes his sketching umbrella rang on the stone pavement of Siron's courtyard, and vermouth and friendly criticism awaited you.

Later in the autumn, the evening settled chill, you stretched yourself a little stiffly as you ceased your work, glad at the prospect of the brisk walk. By the time your various paraphernalia of the artist were strapped together it was dusk, and holding your newly painted canvas gingerly from your person, your footsteps echoed loudly as you gained the highway through the woods. You walked in a Gothic cathedral, and a sense of solitude rose from the rhythmic beat of your feet.

The lights would be lit in the inn on your arrival, the painters, growing fewer in number as the season advanced, would be gathered in the high room, panelled with sketches, where we dined; where the table, already set, awaited, and a fire crackled on the hearth in the corner.

A Hotel/Restaurant in Barbizon, France

Here, by the light of a candle held close to your sketch, your work received the approbation or frank disapproval of your friends, each on his arrival running the gauntlet of criticism, and there ensued a discussion on art in general, accompanied by becoming personalities, until it was interrupted by the entrance of Siron, bearing high a huge and smoking soup tureen and crying, "A table, Messieurs, a table!"

We dearly loved the the general discussion of art in those days, when we frankly talked shop on all occasions - and some of us have not outgrown the habit.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoor
Some of the Young Art Students who went to paint in the
Barbizon Forest in 1877 - Including R.A.M. Stevenson of
the striped socks! These would have been folks WIll Low knew.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Twenty-Four Sittings with Tarbell

"Reverie" by Edmund Tarbell

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Second Lesson of Carolus-Duran

Understanding Your Subject
There are two methods of understanding a subject. It may be treated heroically or intimately. In the latter case the artist enters into the life of the personages that he desires to represent, observing them as human beings; as it were, following them; taking account of their impressions, their joys, and their sufferings. The heroic manner, on the contrary, expresses but an instant of their life, when raised to an exceptional pitch. The personages represented are, as you might say, deified, so much do they seem to be absolved from the daily necessities of humanity. But, for this very reason, they lose many sympathetic charms that we only find in beings living, thinking, and suffering like ourselves. The latter alone can move us, because we find our own experiences in their melancholy, their terrors, their passions. The heroic method, necessarily restricted, is obliged to impose upon its personages a sort of conventional grandeur that suppresses the better part of their originality.

Duran's Point Illustrated by Tiepolo's Series of Etchings, "The Flight into Egypt"
In the subject that now occupies us, let us take our personages at their starting point and accompany them thorough the different episodes that must have marked their precipitate flight. You all know the legend. Joseph is warned in a dream that the time has come to quit Judea with the Virgin Mary and the Divine Child. Picture to yourselves the incidents of this departure. See the group precipitately leaving in the night; follow them hour by hour; imagine the scenes that must have followed one another, at the morning fires, in the glimmering twilight, in the moonlight, or under the bright light of day.

Tiepolo has made, in thought, this journey as I have indicated it to you; he has pictured these episodes; very many of them are most touching and very delicately felt. He has portrayed the solitude of a hamlet during the night; the holy travelers are crossing it hastily, not daring to trust themselves to any hospitality. Then, farther on, they arrive on the banks of a river that must be crossed. Angels push the boat, and, father on, the Virgin Mary is supported by them as they climb a steep ascent. *

You are not to imitate Tiepolo, nor to bear in mind his compositions; but you must proceed like him. It is the only way to avoid the commonplace — the only way to find charmingly intimate scenes; the child Jesus crying, smiling, or being nursed by his mother. The travelers have rested in the shade, as you might have done; they have had in their flight a crowd of emotions, such as you may have felt in your journeys. Call us your remembrances and apply them, so that the personages may be before your eyes, moving, walking, resting, forming a whole with the nature that surrounds them and of which they reflect the influence.

This sympathy that has made you live in thought with your subjects has shown them to you in varied circumstances, under the numerous effects of light, shade, or twilight. Choose one of these effects — that one of which you have kept the clearest and the most vivid remembrance. Your group must harmonize with the hour, solemn or cheerful, that you have chosen. As you are very different from one another, your compositions will reflect the variety of your natures.

This habit of living with your personages will have the effect of presenting them to your mind under a fixed form. Having followed and analyzed all their actions, all their sentiments, you will in the end know them as if they were real things. It will appear to be the remembrance of an actual scene.
Do not hurry to place this vision on canvas. Turn it over in your mind, that it may be refined and completed at every point of view. It is only when you have thus mentally elaborated your composition, that you should decide to execute it; for then you will have lived it.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The First Lesson of Carolus-Duran

Lessons to My Pupils: First Lesson

Is Painting simply an imitative art? No; it is, above all, an art of expression. There is not one of the great masters of whom this is not true. Even the masters who were most absorbed by outward beauty, being influenced by it according to the sensitiveness of their natures, understood that they neither could not ought to reproduce anything but the spirit of nature either in form or color. Thus it happens that these masters have interpreted nature, and not given a literal translation. This interpretation is precisely what makes the personality of each of them. Without this individual point of view there can be no really original work.

This shows how dangerous are those schools that, restricting the artists to the same methods, do not permit them to develop their individual feeling. These schools, however, make use of a very respectable motto: “Tradition.” But what are we all but the result of tradition? — only we ought to be free to choose in the direction that agrees with our aspirations, and not have imposed upon those of another man, however great he may be.

In the French school, since Ingres, the tradition comes from Raphael. That was very well for Ingres, who freely chose the master from whom he really descended; but we who have other needs, who desire reality — less beautiful, without doubt, but more passionate, more living, more intimate, we should search a guide amongst the masters who responds most fully to our temperament.

Imagine the painters of the seventeenth century in Spain, Flanders, or Holland obliged to follow in the footsteps of Raphael instead of the inspiration of their individual genius! What would have become of their reproductions? Instead of Velasquez, Rembrandt, Rubens, Teniers, Ostade, and Brauwer, we should have a lot of would-be Raphaels, counterfeited, stunted, and grotesque, a commonplace and disheartening plagiarism substituted for their sincerely and extremely varied chefs-d’oeuvre.
The example that I have just given you in the past has a singular application at present, when the same causes are producing the same disastrous results. It is as absurd to attempt to impose on artists one and the same mold in which all — powerful or weak, impassioned or timid — must form their thought, as it would be to constrain them to modify their physical natures until all should resemble a given model. Art lives only by individual expression. Where would we be if the great masters of all times had only looked to the past — they who not only prepared, but made the future? 

Works of art can only be produced by the recalling of our aspirations and experiences. To live one’s work is the condition, the sine qua non, of its power and of its truth. 
 These principles apply not only to “compositions,” but also to the painting of portraits, which many wrongly believe to be another art, because the greater part of portrait painters have only represented the visible form of their subject. If we study the masters that are looked upon as first in this order, we shall see that they have not been contented with the material appearance, but that, putting themselves aside, they have sought the particular characteristics of the model — his mind and his temperament as well as his manner. To place all one’s models on the same background is like serving all kinds of fish with the same sauce.

We will review some of those who, right or wrong, have come down to us as types: Holbein, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Titian, Raphael, Van Dyck. Which if these painters best agrees with the ideas I have just expressed? Among the persons painted by Holbein, Velasquez, and Rembrandt, there is not one that does not seem to be known to you intimately. You exclaim, in spite of yourself: “I feel as it I knew him — what a good likeness it must be! Each has his own individuality apart from the habits and plastic tendencies of the painter.

"Portrait of a Man" by Velazquez

"Charles de Solier, Sieur de Morette,"
by Holbein the Younger

Titian, in spite of his admirable works in this art, is a transition between these first and those less close in their portrayal of the individuality of their subjects.

"Portrait of a Man with a Quilted Sleeve" by Titian

Raphael, in his love for beauty and harmony, only heeded the model posing before him as far as it coincided with his ideal. In all his portraits we see Raphael; but it is impossible to disengage the precise individuality of the person portrayed.*

"Baldasarre Castiglione" by Raphael

In Van Dyck it is yet more noticeable. He has painted commoners and nobles, giving them all the same style, the same elegance, that sprang from his own taste and graceful personality.

"Martin Ryckaert" by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
This necessity of self-abnegation, indispensable to the portraitist, is the only thing that separates the portrait from composition. 

I will leave to Ingres, who did wonders in this direction, and to Delacroix, who really was unable to make a portrait, the task of saying to which of these two genres supremacy belongs — if supremacy there be. Ingres said that only the greatest masters had made true portraits. Delacroix wrote, with a sadness that one feels between the lines, that 
"Portraiture is the most difficult thing in art. I myself believe that each offers different but equivalent difficulties, the placing on view of one person being as complex as that of ten. In a picture you must draw all from your own soul, your remembrance of the phenomena of nature and your feeling toward nature, your past joys and griefs."
"Louise de Broglie, Countess d'Haussonville" by Ingres
*M. Duran, we think, will not find many to agree with him in so sweeping a condemnation of Raphael’s portraits. Editor.